Rarely have a team reached the Premier League summit in May accompanied by such ruefulness. Jürgen Klopp thumped his chest with pride in front of the Kop, as though reinforcing the message that Liverpool will never give up, but the regret inside Anfield was almost tangible.
In the most demanding and unforgiving Premier League title race they have blinked first. The draw was fair and, in normal circumstances, a point would feel rewarding for Liverpool amid a relentless schedule and having fallen behind to a supremely well-organised and resolute Tottenham side.
Antonio Conte’s visitors led through a fine Son Heung-min goal and could have won it in stoppage time had Pierre-Emile Højbjerg directed a free header goalwards and not in the direction of Harry Kane. Ibrahima Konaté intervened and Conte lamented the missed opportunity to leapfrog Arsenal into fourth ahead of Thursday’s north London derby.
Liverpool salvaged what could yet prove a vital point courtesy of Luis Díaz’s deflected strike but after 12 successive league wins at Anfield it was a bad time to falter in the 13th. Manchester City may be on the floor following their astonishing Champions League collapse at Real Madrid but this was the fillip Pep Guardiola’s men needed ahead of Sunday’s home game against Newcastle. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s reaction to the final whistle, dropping to his knees in despair, was arguably a more realistic appraisal of Liverpool’s chances than his manager’s attempt to remain upbeat.
On paper, Spurs’ visit appeared the most awkward assignment left for the Champions League finalists in their pursuit of the domestic title. It played out as such on the pitch. Klopp’s team started with an intensity and confidence that was also evident in the crowd following another momentous week for the club. But Conte’s team weathered the storm and, as the Liverpool manager had predicted, the danger posed by “some of the best counter attacking players in the world” became apparent. From Spurs’ first attack Kane’s cross forced Alisson to save at the feet of Son and from Rodrigo Bentancur’s follow-up, although the South Korea international was offside. A warning nevertheless.
The visitors’ broke again when Dejan Kulusevski released Højbjerg in far too much space for Klopp’s liking down the right. Kane received the midfielder’s cross but, having seemingly escaped Jordan Henderson inside the area, his goal-bound shot was blocked by a perfectly-timed challenge from the Liverpool captain.
The threat from Spurs was sporadic, however, and with Díaz all movement and menace, Thiago Alcãntara finding space in a crowded midfield and Mohamed Salah linking well with Sadio Mané, the visitors spent much of the first half encamped deep inside their half. Hugo Lloris clawed the ball away from Salah, making his 250th appearance for Liverpool, when Ryan Sessegnon headed a Thiago cross over his six-yard box under pressure from Henderson. Virgil van Dijk, towering over Ben Davies, headed an Alexander-Arnold corner against the crossbar. Lloris intervened again when Díaz combined with Mané before aiming for the bottom corner from 20 yards.
The visitors countered immediately through Son, who found Højbjerg arriving in space 25 yards from goal. His low drive beat Alisson only to strike the base of the goalkeeper’s right hand post and cannon away to safety.
It was an absorbing game featuring moments of individual excellence and unforced errors from both teams. Liverpool found themselves in several promising situations early in the second half but, too often, their final ball was lacking. Lloris put his side in trouble by throwing straight to Salah and was indebted to Davies for preventing a Henderson cut-back finding the Egypt international in front of goal.
The Spurs goalkeeper started the move that produced the breakthrough. Lloris picked out Emerson Royal with a clearance that the defender lofted on to Kane. The England captain controlled superbly and drifted past a static Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool’s back-line was suddenly exposed. Kane could have shot but saw the bigger picture and released Sessegnon down the left. The wing-back crossed first time and there was Son, unmarked and six yards out, to score the first league goal against Liverpool since Gabriel Jesus for Manchester City on 10 April.
With the title on the line Klopp introduced Diogo Jota for Henderson plus Kostas Tsimikas for the tiring Robertson. The visitors met Liverpool’s desperate search for a way back with impressive resistance. Cristian Romero, Eric Dier and Davies formed a formidable barrier, with the Wales international producing a superb block to thwart Salah after the forward had cut inside the Spurs’ area and lined up an equaliser.
It arrived a minute later to a deafening roar and thanks to a dollop of good fortune for Liverpool. Díaz, who helped transform the Champions League semi-final at Villarreal and was a Spurs’ transfer target in January, was the man of the moment again. Collecting Thiago’s pass on the left, the Colombia international cut across two Spurs players and let fly from 22 yards out. Lloris may have had the shot covered but a deflection off Bentancur left him flat-footed and Anfield in uproar as Díaz’s effort sailed into the bottom corner. The comeback that Liverpool craved, however, did not materialise.